SIKESTON -- Area wrecker services and Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol spent Thursday removing wrecked vehicles from Interstates 55 and 57.
"All available wreckers were called out and it was very busy," Lt. Jim McNiell, Troop E Service Center commander, said Thursday afternoon. "We've seen a large increase of accidents, especially between Sikeston and Matthews."
The highway patrol has a rotation list, where certain wreckers meet our guidelines, and when they're needed, the patrol calls on them, McNiell explained.
Sikeston is as busy as any of the areas in Troop E because of this region of the storm, McNiell explained. The highway patrol had to pull highway patrol officers from Cape and Dexter and bring in additional cars Thursday, he said.
Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, between the two and four-mile markers on Interstate 57, the highway patrol attended to nearly 25 accidents/slide-offs, including four jack-knifed tractor trailers that occurred, McNiell said.
Some vehicles are still left on roadsides because officials feared trying to move them could cause more accidents in the slick conditions. As a result, they may not be moved until road conditions improve, McNiell said.
"It's been pretty tough," said Sherry Hamlin of Satterfield's Wrecker Service. "Our guys have had about two hours of sleep in the last 24 hours."
Hamlin said all six of Satterfield's employees have been working around the clock since Wednesday morning.
"We're just starting to slow down," Hamlin said Thursday afternoon. "But we still have some people stranded on the side of roads. We have to do the emergencies first."
Around 20-25 vehicles have been towed by Satterfield's over the last couple days, compared to their normal six or seven a day. Only one or two towed vehicles were for service; the others were accidents, Hamlin said.
"It's just been mass confusion here," Hamlin said. "Every five minutes, the phone is ringing."
Todd Curtis of Todd's Towing Service said they pulled out at least a dozen vehicles Thursday when they, too, assisted the highway patrol.
"It's extremely slick out there. Drivers need to slow down and be very careful. The main roads may clear up, but the back roads are still pretty slick," Curtis cautioned.
The highway patrol and wreckers have been doing a good job and it's very tough to get out in these situations, McNiell noted.
Luckily, McNiell said no fatalities for Troop E have been reported during this first winter storm. Most of the wrecks occurred because people were driving too fast for the dangerous conditions, he said.
Sgt. Tommy Conn of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety said, "Ninety percent of the accidents in Sikeston over the last two days have been due to the fact of speed and following too closely. It's been more rear-ends than anything."
An accident in the Fulton/Crystal City area caused a 30-car pile-up Wednesday, McNiell recalled. Something like this occurs when someone in the chain loses control and they're so close to each other, there's not much that can be done, he explained.
"Basically we're doing two things. We've got officers in shifts running the roads and we have officers handling class for assistance in accidents," McNiell said.
McNiell said ice/snow storm accidents usually occur when people are going to or coming home from work. He recommended motorists prepare themselves for the rest of the winter since the first storm is over.
Motorists should carry additional blankets, a shovel and de-icer in vehicles, as well as cell phones, he suggested. And he advised making sure the gas tank is at least half full before traveling in stormy conditions.
"Dangerous road conditions won't be over for a few more days," McNiell reminded. "Roads are improving considerably, but they're still thawing and refreezing. Motorists need to drive with extra caution until the roads are completely dry."